School in a Book: Geography

There are many ways to reliably embarrass yourself in life. One of them is to reveal your lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of continents, oceans, nations and cities. Of course, one of the easiest ways to commit locations to memory is to visit them, even briefly, so you can associate unique sights and other sensory experiences (even emotion) to a point on a map.


Latitude lines/parallels: Imaginary lines running horizontally around the globe. They are measured in degrees, with the equator at 0° latitude, the north pole at 90° north and the south pole at 90° south.

Longitude lines/meridians: Imaginary lines running vertically around the globe. These meet at both poles. They are measured in degrees, with the prime meridian at 0° longitude (at Earth’s axis), and the farthest extensions at 180° east and 180° west.

Geographic coordinates: The two-number combination that gives a location’s latitude and longitude

Hemisphere: A hemisphere is half the Earth’s surface. The four hemispheres are the Northern and Southern hemispheres, divided by the equator (0° latitude), and the Eastern and Western hemispheres, divided by the prime meridian (0° longitude) and the International Date Line (180°).

Equator: The imaginary line around the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees latitude. The Sun is directly overhead the equator at noon on the two equinoxes (March and Sept. 20 or 21). The equator divides the globe into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The equator appears halfway between the North and South poles, at the widest circumference of the globe. It is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 km) long.

Prime Meridian: The imaginary line down the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees longitude (0°). It runs through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England and divides the globe into the Western and Eastern hemispheres. The Earth’s time zones are measured from it.

International Date Line: The imaginary line located at approximately 180° longitude that, by convention, marks the end of one calendar day and the beginning of the next. It bends around countries to avoid date- and time-related confusion.

Tropic of Cancer: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ north of the equator. The sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer on the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere around June 21. It marks the northernmost point of the tropics, which falls between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Tropic of Capricorn: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ south. The Sun is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere around December 21. It marks the southernmost point of the tropics.

Arctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ north, delineating the Northern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

Antarctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ south, delineating the Southern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

Map projections: Distorted representations of the relative locations on Earth that allow for two-dimensional map making.

Mercator projection: The most famous map projection, which shows the far northern and southern areas of Earth as much larger than they are

Pangea: The most recent single, unified supercontinent to have preceded the current continental forms on the earth

The six main types of landforms: Mountains, hills, valleys, plateaus, plains, deserts. Islands, peninsulas, canyons, and deltas are also sometimes considered separate types of landforms, and there are many variations of these landforms.

The seven continents: In order of size: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australasia/Oceania. Note that some people consider Asia and Europe as one continent that they refer to as Eurasia. Also note that the Middle East is considered part of Asia and is sometimes referred to as Asia Minor.

Oceans: Vast and deep bodies of saltwater that are the largest bodies of water on the planet.

The five oceans: The Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic oceans

Seas: Smaller and shallower bodies of saltwater that are partially enclosed by land. They are usually located where the land and ocean meet, and often have a connection to one of the larger oceans. There are many and they include the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea.

The Mediterranean Sea: The large body of water that lies between Europe, Africa and Asia and is mostly enclosed by land

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers: The river system that borders Mesopotamia and is surrounded by the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East

The Fertile Crescent: The part of the Middle East that surrounds the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and is the birthplace of farming and civilization

The Caspian Sea: The world’s largest inland body of water, located between Europe and Asia, with historical trading and political significance

The Nile River: The deep, gentle river in Africa that connects with the Mediterranean Sea. It is known for its predictable patterns and surrounding deserts. Its independent biosphere causes predictable flood patterns so no irrigation systems were needed. The Nile offered early civilizations transportation and irrigation.

The Yellow River: The river in China on which Chinese civilization first sprang up

The Yangtzse River: The longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world to flow entirely within one country

The Gulf of Mexico: A basin of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by Mexico and the Gulf Coast of the U.S.

The Missouri River: The longest river in North America and a tributary of the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River: The second-longest river in North America

The Great Lakes: A collection of lakes on the border of the U.S. and Canada that include: Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario

Mount Everest: The highest mountain in the world, which is located on the borders of Nepal and Tibet

K2: The second-highest mountain in the world, which is located on the borders of Pakistan and China

Mount Kilamanjaro: The highest mountain in Africa

Mount Denali: The highest mountain in North America and the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley

The Andes: The longest continental mountain range in the world, located along the western edge of South America

The Alps: The highest mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe

The Ural Mountains: The mountain range that lies along the western border of Russia that is the natural boundary between Europe and Asia

The Rocky Mountains: The largest mountain range in North America, which lies north to south in the western part of the U.S.

The Appalachian Mountains: The second largest mountain range that lies entirely in North America, which lies north to south in the eastern part of the U.S.

The Gobi Desert: A large desert located in Mongolia and China

The Mojave Desert: A large desert located in the southwestern United States

The Antarctic Desert: The snow and ice desert that makes up the continent of Antarctica and that is considered the largest desert in the world

The Arctic: The region located on and around the North Pole, including the Arctic Ocean and several nearby countries

The Arabian Desert: A large desert located in the Middle East

The Sahara Desert: The desert located in northern Africa that expands and contracts regularly. In prehistoric times, the desert shrank enough to allow humans to migrate out of Africa. In ancient times, the desert became increasingly dry, preventing communication between Northern and Southern Africans. Egyptians in the North had much more contact with Middle Easterners and Europeans than they did with Africans south of the Sahara.

Sub-saharan Africa: The area of Africa located south of the Sahara Desert which, during its early history, evolved separately and cut off from northern Africa and Eurasia

The Horn of Africa: The easternmost part of the African mainland

The Gold Coast: The region on the coast of West Africa that includes modern-day Ghana, parts of Togo and parts of the Ivory Coast that got this name during colonial times due to their gold supplies

Oceania: The area of the world that encompasses Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean

Polynesia: The islands of the central and southern Pacific, including Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Cook Islands and more

Melanesia: The islands of the western Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia

Micronesia: The islands of the western Pacific, including the Marshall Islands, Palau, Guam, and the Federated States of Micronesia

The five climate zones of Earth: Arctic and antarctic (in the far north and south); north temperate and south temperate; and tropical (the middle of Earth on both sides of the equator)

The four U.S. mainland time zones: Pacific Time (PT: UTC-8); Mountain Time (MT: UTC-7); Central Time (CT: UTC-6); and Eastern Time (ET: UTC-5). Other time zones are used in Alaska, Hawaii and elsewhere. During daylight saving time, some of these time zones shift one hour. When daylight savings time is not being observed, “standard” is added, so that PT, MT, CT and ET become PST, MST, CST and EST. When daylight savings time is being observed, the same abbreviations become PDT, MDT, CDT and EDT.

The five regions of the U.S.: The West Coast/West, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast and the East Coast/Northeast

The current number of countries in the world: Almost 200

The current population of the world: Approximately eight billion

The three most populous nations in the world: China, India and the United States

The five most populous cities in the world: Tokyo, Japan; Delhi, India; Shanghai, China; São Paulo, Brazil; and Mumbai, India. New York, U.S.; Seoul, South Korea; and Mexico City, Mexico are close to the top of the list.

The largest country in the world by area: Russian Federation

The smallest country in the world by area and population: Vatican City

The country with the highest life expectancy in the world: Japan

The country with the highest gross national product (GNP) in the world: The United States


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